In an interview
on The Knowledge Project
podcast, organizational psychologist Adam Grant points out that we’re not very good at “mental time travel.”
For example, when we face a personal or professional hardship, we tend to amplify its importance in the moment: it can feel like it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.
But it’s unlikely that any single hardship is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, given all of your experiences.
Grant suggests that a crucial skill in successfully dealing with adversity in the present is the ability to get in touch with your past self.
When you’re facing adversity, he recommends these two steps:
1. Ask: What would my past self have done in this situation?
When you do this, you’ll often find that you now have resources and skills that help you deal with the present challenge that you didn’t have in the past.
2. If the first step doesn’t help, ask: What’s an adversity I faced that was similarly difficult, or even worse, and how did I overcome it?
Remembering that you’ve overcome challenges in the past has the following benefits:
- It boosts your self-efficacy and gives you confidence that you can do it again.
- It can sometimes help you remember problem-solving strategies you applied in the past, but have since forgotten.
You can also use mental time travel to better appreciate those things you’ve already accomplished.
Grant talks about how much he’s loved reading ever since he was a kid, and what a “meaningful life transition” it was for him to become an author and publish his first book, Give and Take
But by the time he wrote his second book, Originals
, it hardly registered as something to mark as a significant milestone: “It’s not like I should have been less excited or proud when book two came out than book one, and yet I had totally adapted to the idea of being an author.”
To better appreciate such milestones when they do occur, Grant now asks himself: If my five-years-ago self knew this was going to happen, how excited would I be?